Absence of female leaders and researchers in South Asia

10 February 2015

New research has found that women academics in South Asia are not being identified and prepared for leadership. There is evidence that women who aspire for leadership are frequently rejected from senior positions, and many do not aim for senior leadership as they perceive it as an unattractive career option.

This report, Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioningby Professor Louise Morley and Dr Barbara Crossouard from the Centre of Higher Education and Equity research at the University of Sussex, was commissioned by the British Council in conjunction with a series of South Asian Global Education Dialogues. The research covers six countries in the region - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

The findings show complex barriers to women’s leadership in higher education.  These range from social, cultural and economic barriers in each country, the organisational culture in universities, discrimination in recruitment and selection, and unequal power relations. 

For example, only three per cent of vice-chancellors in India are women, with six of the 13 female vice chancellors found at women-only institutions.

There were also in some instances enablers to women achieving leadership positions, including training and development, support and mentorship and international networks and mobility across the region.

Another report from the region found that the rise in female educational enrolment in South Asia is not leading to careers in research, to the long-term detriment of the region. Inequalities in the hiring process, unfavourable workplace practices and other institutional barriers may be to blame.

The report, Defined by absence: Women and research in South Asia prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of the British Council, states that “The rise in female higher education participation has been driven by rising incomes, the creation of a rapidly growing labour market for the higher skilled and gradually changing attitudes regarding women in the workforce. Higher education has become both more affordable and often a pre-requisite to region’s competitive labour markets. However, female enrolment in postgraduate degree programmes has not risen as rapidly, and women as researchers are notably missing”. 

“The average expectation in India was that you would first take care of being a young woman who has to settle and have a family. And then, if time permits—everything else permits— you will continue research,” says Rohini Godbole, Professor, Centre for High Energy Physics, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in the report.

The report found that in 2014,cultural restrictions and a lack of career opportunities play a major role in contributing to the gradual drop off of women researchers after PhD level. But there is a serious lack of gender specific data to help evaluate the gap in the workplace within the region. Good initiatives are in short supply, and in cases where they do exist sustainable funding can be a problem. The report suggests that this gender imbalance is not being taken seriously enough at the highest levels or by the women themselves.

Rob Lynes, Director British Council India said: “To create long term, sustainable and mutually beneficial education links with South Asia it is critical for the UK to understand the context in which South Asia operates. Gender and equality opportunity is an important area. We welcome the delegates from across the region and hope this dialogue helps them build links between countries in the region and with the UK.” 

These reports were launched at the Global Education Dialogue taking place today and tomorrow in New Delhi: Women and leadership: ‘the absent revolution’.